“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
(Colossians 1:18 ESV)
Last week our denomination held its annual stated meeting of the General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. I wanted to use this article as a way of keeping the congregation up to date on the happenings of the Presbyterian Church in America. I certainly can’t give every detail due to space. So, if you want more details or details that I might leave out, then you should go to these websites: www.weswhite.net and www.theaquilareport.com. As the Jerusalem council met in Acts 15, so we met to discuss and deliberate doctrine. In addition, the Assembly took care of the usual clarifications and additions and corrections concerning our Rules of Assembly Operation in order to help us function more efficiently as a denomination. Our Book of Church Order also has minor corrections and additions. These types of issues regarding our polity (government) are usually minor and usually never given much debate on the floor of the Assembly. But that doesn’t mean they are unimportant. We’re called to conduct our work decently and in order. Well, that is a synopsis of some of the more minor issues that came up this year as they do every year. But back to the doctrine. This year there were three main doctrinal issues debated. Let me take them in order. And let me give credit beforehand. I’ll be borrowing from the reports found on the websites mentioned above in addition to my own perspective.
- Creation. For reasons I don’t have the space to explain, there are some (a small amount) in our denomination who are entertaining the possibility of theistic evolution (that is that God created all things but employed evolution to accomplish it) and bringing into question the historicity of Adam and Eve. We don’t believe this at this church or in this denomination. But some are challenging the Standards of our denomination and holding to the views of Biologos which is a website devoted to promoting this view. We aren’t above having discussions and disagreements; however, asking forgiveness instead of permission just isn’t right. In Presbyterianism the process of making changes is done by way of overtures. Presbyteries can overture the Assembly to make this or that ruling. Then the assembly as a whole discusses and debates and then votes. The majority wins. Overture 10 from Rocky Mountain Presbytery asked that the General Assembly go on record (known as making an ‘in thesi’ statement) to reject all evolutionary views of Adam’s origins. Overture 29 from Savannah River Presbytery asked for a similar statement. But Overture 26 from Potomac Presbytery asked for something different. They felt that the PCA had clearly stated their position on these topics, most especially in Larger Catechism Question 17. A minority of the committee brought to the floor their position defending the adopting of an ‘in thesi’ statement, staying that is was needed since there were a number of people and/or institutions that were claiming to uphold the Westminster Standards (i.e. LCQ 17) yet, at the same time, were claiming that Theistic Evolution or views that Adam and Eve were not truly newly created was within the bounds of understanding of the Standards. When the votes were taken, the assembly voted by a 60-40% margin to approve the Potomac Overture and not make a statement. The way to deal with those who are holding to and teaching theistic evolution now is to go through a disciplinary process. No one enjoys such a process, but the apostle Paul saw it as necessary (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:14-19).
- Paedocommunion. An increasingly popular doctrine is that of giving the elements of the Lord’s Supper to covenant children (some give them to infants) who have not yet professed faith in Jesus. Let me be clear. We do not believe this doctrine at this church or in this denomination. 1 Corinthians 11 seems to make this clear. However, once again there are some who are wanting to challenge our standards. And as with theistic evolution, discipline is the answer. This teaching is not just becoming a problem in the PCA but has made its way into many reformed churches. This isn’t the first time the issue has come before our denomination. The Review of Presbytery Records committee brought three recommendations to the Assembly in regards to one presbytery where these beliefs are held. Though they claim to neither teach nor practice the doctrine of paedocommunion, their records clearly indicate that they believe the practice to not be out of accord with the Bible nor with our Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms nor our Book of Church Order. The decision of the Assembly was to send the three recommendations back to the RPR committee to bring back next year one recommendation for the assembly instead of three. So, we will have the discussion again next year.
- Intinction. Another issue in regards to the sacraments is the practice of intinction, which is dipping the bread into the wine/fruit of the vine. Again, we do not agree with this practice in this church or in this denomination. Matthew 26 and 1 Corinthians 11 make it clear that the elements are to be taken separately. Eating and drinking are obviously two separate actions. One cannot drink soggy bread. This might seem nitpicky, but our Lord and his apostle (Paul) command us to keep two distinct actions in the Lord’s Supper to reflect the separation in the sacrificial system of the blood from the animal. On the cross the blood of Jesus was spilled on the ground to show forth his death. Keeping the elements distinct properly shows forth the death of Christ. Overture 30 from Savannah River Presbytery asks for an amendment to BCO 58-5 by adding the sentence: “Intinction, because it conflates Jesus’ two sacramental actions, is not an appropriate method for observing the Lord’s Supper.” The Overtures Committee recommended that the overture be denied, but the vote was a very close 49-37-2 in favor of the overture. The proposed change now goes to the Presbyteries for confirmation. It takes 2/3 of the Presbyteries to approve the change, and if that occurs, another majority vote at next year’s assembly.
There were several other things going on and many of them most encouraging. All in all, I’m thankful to be in the PCA still. Not every vote went my way, but thankfully this is the Lord’s church and He is always in control and will build His Church.